The Black Orchid (1958)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1958Paramount Pictures.  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by . Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

Sophia Loren is in mourning after the death of her husband, working day and night to make ends while her son is upstate in a juvenile detention centre. Anthony Quinn espies this sad beauty while visiting her neighbours and immediately falls in love, begging her to go out with him and refused the pleasure until he breaks through her reserve and makes her smile.  The two seem to be embarking on the road to a rewarding romance, she putting her late husband’s ties to the mob behind her, he finding companionship after losing his wife to mental illness, but there are problems:  Quinn’s daughter () does not like this marked woman that her father is taking up with, while Loren needs to make sure that her son () is okay with the new adult man in her life.  Subtle direction by Martin Ritt and a sensitive script by Joseph Stefano make for an incredibly sweet film that never trivializes the emotional drama of these disappointed and damaged people.  Loren, who shows masterful command of the screen relatively early in her career, responds with subtle intelligence to all the situations her character is put through, transmitting a sense of having been around life’s block without ever pushing her desperation or fatigue too hard; it’s a performance composed of soft smiles and patient reactions and is thoroughly absorbing as a result.  All characters are given their due, including Balin as the daughter whose objections might at first seem like youthful selfishness but turn out to be grounded in something deeper that threatens her own impending marriage (to ).  The investment in these people results in a conclusion that will have you reaching for your closest handkerchief, unlike Stefano’s next foray into child-parent conflict, two years later in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Venice Film Festival Award:   Best Actress (Sophia Loren)


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